upgrade your aircraft to perform even better

October 24, 2019

Marc Grangier investigates recent developments in the upgrades market




“Upgrading an aircraft is investing wisely as one simultaneously increase its resale value.” This comment by Serkan Akin, MRO Sales Manager at Atlas Air Service in Bremen, Germany, summarizes the fact that modifications to power plants, cabin systems, exteriors, and interiors can double – or even triple – the money spent on upgrades

“Deferring the retirement of aging aircraft is one of the factors driving today’s hot upgrade market,” says Nils Janssen, Managing Director, ACC COLUMBIA Jet Service GmbH. “The cost of buying a new business aircraft continues to increase, so operators are looking towards modifying their jets with upgraded solutions as an investment.”

A year ago, his company upgraded a Bombardier Global with the latest cockpit, cabin and connectivity systems, alongside mandate equipment to retrofit and modernize the aircraft. This essentially made the jet the equivalent of a new aircraft at 10% of the cost – with enhanced safety and efficiency elements to boot.

This is the perfect illustration of why the upgrade market remains in full swing, mostly with new avionics and connectivity technologies, but also aerodynamics and engines. Adding a bit of urgency to the market is the looming ADS-B Out year-end mandate in the US and the June 7, 2020 deadline in Europe. Although the European mandate does not dictate the same GPS performance levels as the FAA for aircraft operating in US airspace, non-US operators flying in the US will need to have their aircraft updated at the higher levels, given also that there are mandates for ADS-B Out in place throughout the world.

With a market estimated to surpass $1.3 million by 2022, it should come as no surprise that a number of companies are working hard to upgrade aircraft. Below, we look at the most recent upgrades in the various fields.

Cockpit Avionics and Connectivity

Jet Aviation Basel recently delivered three extensive refurbishments on a Boeing 747 and two Gulfstream GIVs, all of which included Ka Band installations. In addition, the company successfully implemented and delivered its first Ka Band installations on Gulfstream G550 and G650 aircraft.

To maximize downtime during heavy maintenance on the wide-body BBJ, Jet Aviation upgraded the entire cabin interior, including development of STCs for ADS-B Out installation and WLAN activation. A wireless AVOD system was also installed on the Boeing 747 to enable content streaming to handheld devices.

Refurbishment of the two Gulfstream GIVs involved restoration of the woodwork, stripping and recovering all soft materials, and re-finishing the cabin sidewalls and headliners with luxurious custom material. In parallel, both aircraft were enhanced with the latest DU-885 LCDs, FANS 1A, an SBB upgrade, and ADS-B Out systems.

Duncan Aviation received FAA approval for an STC that will allow it to install SmartSky’s air-to-ground connectivity system for Challenger 601, 604, 605 and 650 aircraft. SmartSky’s network brings new, high-performance Wi-Fi to business aircraft, powered by a mix of advanced 4G LTE and 5G technologies. Multiple passengers will now have simultaneous access to a highly compelling user experience in the air, enabling them to hold in-flight conference calls, VPN into the office, stream movies, compete in online games, and easily upload/download content during their flights. Duncan is working on STCs for several additional makes and models for the SmartSky equipment. Those STCs, slated for completion in 2020, are for the Challenger 300, Learjet 45, and Falcon 900 and 2000.

Last summer, Garmin International announced the certification of the G5000 integrated flight deck for Textron Aviation’s Citation Excel and Citation XLS. The G5000 integrated avionics suite modernizes the cockpit, significantly reduces operational costs, addresses airspace modernization requirements, and solves long-term concerns related to parts obsolescence. The G5000 integrated flight deck for the Citation Excel and Citation XLS features three landscape-oriented flight displays with split-screen capability, allowing pilots to simultaneously view maps, charts, checklists, TAWS, TCAS, flight plan information, weather and more.

Last month, the company also indicated that its G1000H NXi integrated flight deck for helicopters received IFR certification. Bell recently achieved this certification in the 407GXi, which gives pilots the flexibility of operating in degraded weather conditions with valuable situational awareness tools and advanced capabilities in a next generation integrated flight deck.

Dassault Aviation released an iPad compatible version of its Falcon Perf, allowing quick and intuitive computation of Falcon take-off and landing performance. Falcon Perf on iPad is now offered on the Falcon 7X, 8X, 900EASy and 2000EASy models. The new app is being released in parallel with an iPad compatible version of Dassault’s Falcon Sphere electronic flight bag suite, which hosts Falcon Perf and a large number of other Falcon apps. Falcon Sphere on iPad will include many of the leading features of the basic EFB, including the ability to seamlessly prepare, manage and restitute Falcon missions. Falcon Perf for iPad calculates take-off and landing performance in compliance with Airplane Flight Manuals (AFM) and Dassault Aviation recommendations. Airport data, including One-Engine Inoperative contingency procedure, are extracted from Jeppesen NavData and OpsData charts and updated every 28 days.

In this respect, Aero-Dienst has developed a convenient cockpit iPad mount for the Falcon 7X that the company describes as a simple solution for Apple iPad devices used as EFB. Compatible with all existing iPad models, it is certified via EASA Minor Change approval.

Honeywell received an FAA supplemental type certificate to upgrade Bombardier’s Learjet 40 and 45 with its Primus Elite Enhanced Features – an upgrade for the Honeywell Primus 1000 and 2000 cockpit that replaces the DU-870 cathode ray tube displays with modern DU-875 liquid crystal displays. Beyond the Learjet 40 and 45, Honeywell’s Primus Elite Enhanced Features is certified for the Bombardier Global Express, the Dassault Falcon 900EX and 900C, Embraer Legacy 600 and 650, Cessna Citation X, and Dornier 328, Embraer Legacy 600 and 650, Cessna Citation X, and Dornier 328.

For passengers wishing to join a video conference while flying over the Atlantic, catch the latest market reports en route to the next business meeting, download tomorrow’s presentation from the company server – or just kick back and stream a live game or TV show, Inmarsat is offering Jet Connex, an inflight broadband service operating through the Ka-band of its Global Express satellite network. Bombardier, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream and Boeing Business Jets have already started line-fit of Jet ConneX. In fact, Gulfstream already installed the system on more than 300 aircraft, 60% on in-production aircraft such as the G650ER, G650, G550, G500 and the all-new G600, and 40% as upgrades on existing aircraft. Inmarsat’s non-Ka radome program allows existing aircraft to join the Jet ConneX network with their legacy radomes while they wait for delivery of their Ka-band radome.

Textron Aviation developed STCs for the Gogo AVANCE L5 system for the Cessna Citation X, Citation Sovereign and Citation XL/XLS/XLS+. The STCs cover the Wi-Fi certification and full equipment and antenna installation required to provide in-flight connectivity. The company also developed and is awaiting approval on the STCs for the Cessna Citation Latitude, Citation Sovereign+ and Citation X+. Gogo AVANCE L5 provides broadband internet for high-bandwidth activities such as streaming music, TV and movies, video conferencing and attachments with large files on demand. Textron also mentioned that the Garmin G5000 integrated flight deck is now available for the Cessna Citation Excel and Citation XLS.

Last Summer, Universal Avionics introduced its new Interactive-Synthetic Vision System (i-SVS), an innovative operator’s sight-control concept that allows pilots to easily select entities on the company’s conformal SkyLens Head-Wearable Display (HWD) and send it directly to the InSight Display System. As part of the NextGen roadmap, the InSight/SkyLens integration aligns with FAA regulation (FAR) 91.176), enabling the operator to perform a full landing procedure with no natural vision, where the reported visibility is as low as 1000 feet. The integrated system offers unmatched capabilities, providing dispatch and landing approach priority as well as Low Visibility Landing regardless of the destination airport’s infrastructure. Once on the ground, SkyLens can assist and guide the aircraft to the gate in poor conditions.

Collins Aerospace Systems is teaming with satellite operator SES to bring Business Aviation customers the fastest broadband speeds available within the United States. The two companies are launching LuxStream, a service that, according to Collins, offers speeds up to 25 Mbps in the United States and 15Mbps globally via SES’s managed Ku-band satellite network. LuxStream is powered by SES’s global geostationary high-throughput and wide satellite beams, as well as a flexible, intelligent ground network. Vista Global, which operates a fleet of 116 owned aircraft and has access to 1,500 jets globally, will be the launch customer for the new system. Collins Aerospace will deliver the LuxStream service, as well as its new Collins Aerospace Cabin Router, on Vista Global’s fleet of aircraft for both of its brands, VistaJet and XO, starting with the company’s 36 Global business jets under VistaJet.

BendixKing received Supplemental Type Certificates for its AeroVue Touch, AeroFlight and AeroCruze 230, allowing these three products to be installed in general aviation aircraft to improve reliability and increase safety. The BendixKing AeroVue Touch primary flight display is now available for 353 aircraft types. The display has the highest-resolution electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) on the general aviation market and features Honeywell’s SmartView synthetic vision system, terrain awareness, a moving map, a vertical situation display, aeronautical charts, and traffic and weather information. The company also launched a new cockpit retrofit, modification and upgrade (RMU) program for over 6,000 Cessna single-engine piston aircraft to replace legacy avionics with advanced upgrades such as AeroVue Touch, AeroNav and AeroPoint 200.

Michelin and Safran Landing Systems recently flight-tested the first connected aircraft tire, PresSense, on a Dassault Falcon 2000S. PresSense is a wireless solution for aircraft tires designed to facilitate maintenance operations. An electronic sensor measures tire pressure and transmits this data wirelessly. There is no need for technicians to take readings from the tire because of the system’s wireless connection to a data base. All pressure readings are saved and can be easily consulted via a web interface for maximum traceability. The next step will be flight tests on different aircraft at the end of 2019 and in early 2020.

Engines, Aerodynamics and Cabin Upgrades

With more than 800 XP Engine+ upgrades delivered, Blackhawk Aerospace is one of the largest buyers of Pratt & Whitney PT6A turboprop engines in the world. Recently, it introduced its Phoenix upgrade for high-pedigree King Air or Conquest 1 that have impeccable logs and no history of major damage. The Phoenix package encompasses a complete nose-to-tail customization of legacy aircraft. The upgrade includes Blackhawk XP Engine+ Upgrade, new or freshly overhauled propellers, recent phase 1-4/annual type inspection with no calendar items due for at least one year, full glass cockpit, with either Collins Pro Line 21 with ADS-B, WAAS GPS with LPV and updated PFD/MFD screens or Garmin G1000 NXi w/ADS-B and WAAS GPS, Dual Garmin G600 TXi with Garmin 750/650 ADS-B/WAAS GPS with LPV, or BendixKing AeroVue (B200 only). It also includes full a cockpit upgrade with autopilot, radar, NAVS, COMS, GPS, ADS-B transponders, Bluetooth audio, a Phoenix signature new custom paint and new custom interior, new window polarizers or window shades for King Airs, full cockpit refurbishment, including all electroluminescent panels, plus a new Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) ESP Gold for first 400 hours or two years on new engines.

For Blackhawk, a new Phoenix is usually about 50% less than a new aircraft (depending on the airplane), plus an 33% increase in available horsepower.

Raisbeck Engineering, now an Acorn Growth Company, is a globally-recognized leader in the development of aircraft modification systems dedicated to improving performance and efficiency through aerodynamically designed enhancements. It developed a number of individual systems, one of the most recent being its composite 5-blade swept propeller. Noticeably quieter, the propeller combines airfoil efficiency and carbon fiber structural design to maximize thrust. This combination enhances climb and cruise speed performance, along with takeoff and landing distances, without increasing noise levels in the airplane or on the ground. Operators can enjoy 4% better runway acceleration, improved landing deceleration and weight savings over other propeller materials. Compatible with all Raisbeck Performance Systems, these composite blades offer unlimited blade life, providing operators the ability to maintain airfoil shape over time. They are available for King Air models 300, B300 and 350.

According to Aviation Partners, Inc. (API), its Blended Winglet and Split Scimitar Winglet technologies have already saved operators more than 10 billion gallons of jet fuel, resulting in a corresponding global reduction of over 105 million tons of CO2 emissions. Blended Winglets have now been installed on almost 9,000 aircraft, including business jets such as the Dassault Falcon 900/2000/50 series, Hawker 800 series, Gulfstream II and Boeing BBJ business jets. Furthermore, API’s High Mach Blended Winglets installed on the Falcon 900 series reduce drag and increase range by 5% at Mach .80 and more than 7% when optimum long range speeds are selected.

Demand for the Nextant Aerospace 604XT Pro Line Fusion cockpit upgrade is strong and the company currently has seven installations in progress. Once the seven installations are complete, the number of Challenger 604s to receive the Nextant upgrade will reach 21. The company projects it will achieve at least 30 such installations by the end of 2019, representing nearly 10% of the Challenger 604 fleet and significantly exceeding expectations. Nextant received an STC for the 604 Pro Line Fusion upgrade in November 2018. The package replaces the Challenger 604’s factory-installed CRT displays with three wide-screen, high-resolution touchscreens with synthetic vision technology. It includes ADS-B Out, WAAS/LVP, and the option to add Safe Flight AutoPower and FANS-1A.

Flying Colours Corp. confirmed renewal of its agreement with Bombardier Business Aircraft’s Service Center to provide cabin upgrades and refurbishments at the OEM’s Singapore facility. With this agreement, Flying Colours is now developing its own expansion strategy in order to best align with Bombardier’s growth in Asia. Initial plans include extending the workshop area, which will double the existing footprint, the addition of two more climate-controlled spray booths, and an increase in workforce capacity. The new Bombardier facilities are expected to be operational in 2020.